A week or two ago, on Twitter, I discovered a number of local designers based right here on my doorstep in Devon and decided to feature them here on the blog. The first, you may remember, was the recently launched Bert & Buoy and I had the pleasure of interviewing the very talented designer behind the brand, Bert Fowler. Well, at the same time, I came across another extremely creative local whose work I instantly fell in love with. Simon Hart was not a new name to me, but I had previously only really been aware of his bright and colourful seascapes focusing on the fishing villages and harbours of Devon and Cornwall. I had not come across his beautiful collage work and illustrations of woodland animals, birds, dogs and cats. So I wanted to find out more about his work and let you guys know about it too.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was brought up and went to school in Bedfordshire. I did A-level art, graphic communications and maths at Harlington Upper school, then Art Foundation at Barnet college. I then studied a BA Hons Surface Pattern Design at Staffordshire University then finally an MA in Printed Textiles at The Royal College of Art.
When did you first discover your love of art and design?
From a very young age. When I was about eight or nine years old, I was always drawing birds and wildlife as a junior member of RSPB. I then began to move into graphic design, interior design sketches and architectural plans as I progressed through school.
What brought you to Dartmouth?
I spent a lot of time painting and sketching harbours in Cornwall and Devon and decided I wanted to move from London and live by the sea and open an art gallery. My wife Theresa and I instantly saw Dartmouth as the perfect town for the style of original art we wanted to exhibit. We also fell in love with the place of course.
You are best known for your bright and colourful seascapes focusing on the fishing villages and harbours of Cornwall and Devon. What is it about the South West that inspires you?
I love the contrast between the soft rolling hills and estuaries of Devon and the dramatic, rugged and often bleak landscapes of Cornwall. Also the large number of fishing villages and harbours down in the South West provided me with a wealth of source material. The light is also beautiful down here and I love seeing the colours of bright boats against the natural tones of the buildings and landscape.
Your illustrations have also been used on children’s books, wallpaper, textiles, rugs, magazine covers and stage sets. What have you most enjoyed designing for?
I really enjoyed designing a stage set for the English Ballet School while I was at The Royal College. Seeing my drawings transferred to a massive scale for the first time was incredible. I also loved doing the children’s books as all my work is inspired by naive and childlike art.
Where can people find your designs?
We no longer have the art gallery business as we sold it seven years ago. I have very little of my original art on display in galleries. Most of my current animal and wildlife illustration work can be seen on my website at www.simonhart.co.uk, and my original art and paintings at www.simonhartartist.co.uk. I also sell my work on Not on the High Street and Etsy.
More recently you have expanded into the production of a range of products including mugs, trays, placemats, tea towels, bags, cards and prints that feature your collage illustrations. Why did you decide to branch out into the homewares market?
Theresa and I had always wanted to create a brand following on from the training and experience we had gained in the early part of our careers. Also the online retailing model gives us more flexibility in our lives with having two young children and property and holiday lets to maintain.
Your ‘Pawtraits’ range has proven to be highly successful. Do you have any plans to extend your products to include other animals?
I have already done woodland animals but plan to do some new compositions of British wildlife using vintage papers, tweed fabrics and sheet music. I will of course be adding new breeds to the ‘PAWTRAITS’ dog collection and a few more pussycats are on the way!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Gaining commercial success early on with my images and seeing them displayed worldwide in shops such as Ikea and Habitat was very rewarding as a young designer/artist. A sell out first exhibition and being nominated as a finalist for a British design award for one of my nautical print designs for Liberty were definite highlights.
What advice would you give to young designers or artists just starting out in this industry?
Do your research into what market you want to place yourself in. Be brave and believe in your work early on. Don’t compromise your work early on, while you have the freedom to make mistakes and experiment etc. Do it because later on in life other things will compromise your time! Be good at social media (I am not at the moment!) as it is essential in building your profile as an artist now.